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MCC urges Obama administration to avoid military might in central Africa

Mary Stata
May 25, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States Congress recently passed the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, opening the door for increased U.S.-supported military involvement in the region. 

The bill, which is intended to stop the kidnapping and raping of civilians and the inscription of child soldiers by the rebel group, Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), also includes critical development and justice initiatives that many nongovernment organizations support.
However, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which has operated in Uganda since 1979, is concerned that this bill will prioritize funding to Uganda’s military and thereby incite backlash attacks on civilians, rather than promote stability and reconciliation, according to Gann Herman, MCC Uganda representative from Durham, N.C.
For the past year, MCC U.S. Washington Office and MCC Uganda, along with MCC constituents and other like-minded organizations, have advocated for stronger peace-building initiatives in the bill instead of military options. Although their efforts resulted in an amendment to the bill that encouraged diplomatic efforts, the military option remains.
“Despite the legislation’s admirable language about a multilateral, interagency approach to disarm and demobilize the LRA, it is apparent that, in practice, the military far outweighs diplomacy and development in U.S. foreign policy today. Civilian agencies such as the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development receive much less funding and have far fewer personnel than the Defense Department,” said Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, director of the Washington Office.
Northern Uganda has experienced consistent economic and political marginalization by the central government in the south. The LRA formed in 1987 as a resistance movement claiming to represent northern Uganda’s Acholi people. However, LRA members eventually started attacking the people they initially claimed to protect.
For the past two decades, the LRA has terrorized communities in northern Uganda, until the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for leaders of the LRA. Then the group moved into eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and southern Sudan, where MCC also has programming, and the Central African Republic, where the LRA continued to abduct and attack civilians.
“The LRA are undoubtedly guilty of crimes,” noted Herman. “However, this bill does not put forth a strategy that will create a sustainable peace for northern Uganda or the region.”
Past military operations that were supported by the U.S., such as Operation Iron Fist (2002) and Operation Lightning Thunder (2008/2009), have been unsuccessful in apprehending LRA commander Joseph Kony and other top leaders. Further, these operations resulted in backlash attacks on civilians and the displacement of thousands.
The Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, an MCC partner in Gulu, northern Uganda, explained in a press release: “Not only has the military option been expensive regarding the loss of human life, the financial implications of war are immense. The large sums of money required to carry out war drain the resources needed to bring about development and reconstruction of affected areas.”
MCC U.S. and MCC Uganda will continue to pressure the Obama administration to prioritize a nonviolent resolution to the conflict, said Lyndaker Schlabach. “We do this out of our commitment to Christ’s call to be peacemakers, as well as our relationships with communities who have been affected by the violence.”
“Rather than the military, civilian agencies must take the lead in developing and executing an interagency strategy to disarm and demobilize the LRA,” she said. “It is critical for the Obama administration to ensure that the United States’ actions promote sustainable peace and development in the region, rather than further entrench conflict and insecurity.”